TODAY’S STUDY: WHAT NATURAL GAS COULD MEAN TO CHINA
CEFC China Energy Focus: Natural Gas 2013
December 2013 (China Energy Fund Committee)
Coal and oil has fueled China’s economic success over the past thirty years. Energy generated from coal and oil enabled China to achieve double-digit economic growth rates for more than a decade but has also left the country with worsening environmental problems such as air pollution, water contamination, and the low energy efficiency of its coal-dominated energy structure.
Faced with its worst-ever air quality and rising public demand for cleaner and more efficient sources of energy, China is now striving to reduce its dependence on coal and mitigate the severe environmental costs caused by the imbalance in the country’s energy mix. Since the alarming levels of smog appeared in Northern China in early 2013, both policy makers and the general public are seized with a sense of urgency that China must shift its energy consumption and reduce reliance on coal.
As a result, natural gas, a highly efficient thermal fossil fuel source with much lower green house gas emissions (GHS), emerges as a central theme of the country’s 12th Five-year Plan for energy development. Natural gas, with which China is potentially richly endowed, is regarded as the most feasible and accessible option to aid in resolving China’s energy dilemma, particularly as renewable energy is still in its nascent stage of development and there is concern about the safety of nuclear energy following the Fukushima melt-down.
According to the “12th Five-year Plan for Natural Gas Development” issued by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the “12th Five-year Plan for Energy Development” issued by the State Council, the share of natural gas in China’s total primary energy consumption mix will rise from the current 4.4% to 7.5% by the year 2015 with the total consumption volume reaching 230 billion cubic meters (bcm). Total gas production will rise from its 2010 level of 94.8 bcm to 176 bcm and the installed power capacity of natural gas power plants is expected to climb from 26 Gigawatt (GW) in 2010 to 56 GW over the same period. Population with access to natural gas will also be increased from 188 million to 250 million. Massive gas transmission pipeline projects and liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminals will also be constructed and new plans and favorable policies for gas production and consumption will be implemented. To substitute coal with gas is becoming a nationally acknowledged theme for the energy industries in China.
However, despite government support and the public’s willingness to promote the use of natural gas, difficulties still remain which impede gas consumption in China. The country was the largest coal consumer and the second largest oil consumer of the world in 2012. These two fossil fuel sources still accounted for over 66 per cent and 19 per cent respectively of China’s primary energy consumption. To reverse the dominant position of coal in the near future is unlikely, if not impossible.
Furthermore, considering the relatively high cost of natural gas in both China’s domestic market and the global gas market, it remains uncertain whether China’s industrial and residential users could afford the inevitable rise in energy cost which would occur if more natural gas were to be included in the national energy mix. Also, China’s development goal for the unconventional gas sources such as shale gas and coal-bed methane (CBM) by 2015 will need careful study in view of the less than satisfactory progress made in geological surveying, pipeline network development, and domestic gas price reforms. All the above factors add to the uncertainty regarding increased use of natural gas in China in the near term.
Noting the opportunities and challenges in China’s energy strategy of substituting coal with gas, the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC), a Chinese think tank enjoying special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), decided to present this report to introduce to a wider audience the prospects for natural gas development in China and its progress to date. This publication, which syntheses the opinions and arguments of leading Chinese experts and makes them available in English, is intended to foster the exchange of views between Chinese energy researchers and their foreign counterparts. The publication also introduces China’s natural gas industry and market to foreign energy industry professionals and investors and provides information for investors to aid decision-making on issues related to the Chinese gas market. In addition, the study makes available to the United States energy business sector firsthand information on the growing foreign investment opportunities in China’s gas industry.
The volume contains two main parts. The first is a summary of the views and opinions of China’s leading energy experts collected by CEFC in a survey carried out in September 2013. The second part consists of a series of articles written by Chinese scholars and experts who provide their analyses from multiple perspectives. Both sections of the study cover the five major aspects of natural gas development in China: consumption, production, imports, pricing system and an outlook for its near-term development
Summary of Key Findings:
1. Timing is right for natural gas development in China. The future development of China’s economy is being obstructed by the dual impact of worsening environmental conditions and a tight resource base. How to transform its inefficient and highly polluting energy pattern to a more sustainable form will be critically important for the China’s long-term interest. The Chinese government is expected to unfold a new round of urbanization planning in order to promote its urbanization rate further to 60% by 2020; at the same time, China’s total energy demand is likely to keep a rapid growth rate due to the potential energy demand increase from its enlarged urban population. Natural gas, as a highly efficient thermal fossil fuel source with much lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHS), will emerge as a most feasible and accessible option to aid in resolving China’s energy dilemma.
2. The 2015 goal of promoting natural gas consumption to 230 bcm is largely attainable under the current policy scenario and may even be exceeded. Referring to the historical data of consumption growth, and in view of China’s potential GDP growth rate, natural gas consumption could reach as high as 242 bcm by 2015. However, as a coal-rich country where 70% of primary energy consumption comes from coal, the share of natural gas in China’s energy mix is unlikely to exceed 15%.
3. The 2015 production goal of increasing total natural gas production to 176 bcm is likely to be fulfilled and conventional gas will continue to be the major contributor to domestic gas supply. Assuming an 8% annual growth rate, total conventional gas production in China can be expected to reach as high as 134 bcm in 2015 and near 200 bcm in 2020. According to the experts polled by CEFC, by 2030, with the potential of an additional 10 tcm of proven gas reserves, conventional gas production in China will peak at 240 to 280 bcm.
4. The unconventional gas production goals are more uncertain. China’s unconventional gas reserves, a massive resource base, offer a bright prospect in the long term. However, challenges such as exploration rights acquisition, geological survey, pipeline infrastructure, drilling and exploration technologies and even accurate statistics for commercial supply clouds the future of China’s unconventional gas development. Whether the national plan of having 6.5 bcm shale gas output and 16 bcm coal-bed methane (CBM) surface extraction by 2015 can be achieved still remains highly uncertain in the view of the experts interviewed. Further achievements in unconventional gas development will require more state-of-art drilling technologies, pipeline network development, and a market-oriented approach for gas pricing and development rights.
5. More competitions should be allowed in natural gas production in China. With reference to the U.S. experiences, it was commonly agreed by the interviewed experts that monopoly of upstream gas production would not be beneficial for the long-term development of the industry in China. The vertically integrated state firms may have an edge in technologies, capital strength and exploration experiences now, but considering the long-term interest of the industry, more competitors in the market will be a prerequisite for a continual improvement in production efficiency.
6. Gas imports will continue to grow due to the increased capacity in Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) receiving terminals and import pipeline expansions. China’s LNG terminal receiving capacity is likely to reach 40 million tons per annum while the land pipeline capacity is likely to total 67 bcm per annum. As most of the infrastructure will be completed in the next few years, further increase in the total gas import volume will become possible. Considering the domestic gas supply and demand growth potential, the total import volume in China is likely to be 93.8 bcm by 2015, close to the number projected in the nation’s 12th Five-year Plan.
7. Radical reform of the gas pricing system is being implemented in China to replace the old cost-based approach. In July 2013, the old cost-plus pricing approach was replaced by a new pricing mechanism in China that divides national gas prices into two tiers. Prices for the first tier is based on the 2012 real consumption volume of 112 bcm, under which the ceiling city-gate prices will be increased by no more than Chinese Yuan 0.4/cbm and price negotiation will be allowed under this cap. The second tier will be for any excess gas consumption above the 2012 level, and the prices will be linked by heating values to fuel oil and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) prices (with 60% and 40% weighting respectively) with a 15% discount to ensure a price advantage for natural gas. The approach for the second tier gas prices is also called a net-back approach. Under the new pricing mechanism, the pressure on the major gas importers in China can be expected to be relieved.
8. Gas price reform must be synchronized with electricity price reform. Most of the experts consulted by CEFC agreed that gas price reform will not be successfully achieved without also adopting an electricity price reform that accommodates the differing fuel costs of various power plants. The current price gap between the generation cost and the on-grid tariff in China is unaffordable for gas-fired plant operators. If the government were to promote the share of gas-fired plants in its power system, a market oriented on-grid tariff system will be urgently needed.
The importance of natural gas to China’s future energy scenario can hardly be exaggerated. As the largest energy consumer with an astonishing high level of GHS emission, China is desperately in need to enlarge the share of natural gas and other clean energies to optimize its polluting and unsustainable energy profile.
Under the current policy scenario, most of the objectives outlined in China’s 12th Five-year Plan for natural gas development could be expected to be accomplished in a timely manner. But the unconventional gas development, particularly shale gas development in China, due to a confluence of factors including the geological surveying progress and the limited scale of production, are still in an experimental stage. As the report findings indicate, the future success of China’s natural gas industry will depend on the reform of currently monopolized upstream gas market and the domestic gas pricing mechanism. Certain tax issues pertaining to natural gas and other natural resources will also need to be solved.
Given China’s rapid gas consumption growth and the government’s determination to promote the share of clean energy in its energy mix, a golden era for natural gas development in China is emerging. Domestic gas producers are witnessing the dawn of a new gas era on their homeland.
Foreign investors will also find their opportunities in the massive and inclusive gas market in China with favorable conditions confirmed in several recent government documents. Though difficulties will continually exist in the fields of geological surveying, exploration technologies and high gas development costs, substituting gas for coal will persist as a central theme for China’s energy industry at least in the near term future. As domestic gas market is likely to continue its rapid growth, natural gas is likely to be the next fueling energy to propel the Chinese economy to reach a more sustainable and prosperous end.